School discipline policy is always a hot topic in the state legislature, and this year is no exception. Public schools and particularly charter schools continue to use discipline policies (i.e. suspension and expulsion) that unfairly impact students of color and are not effective in creating safe and positive school environments. This session, there are five major bills to look out for:
- HB 160 is an essential bill that would increase transparency by requiring schools to collect and report more data related to safety and discipline, including the number and effectiveness of school resource officers (police officers) present in schools and data on student suspensions, expulsions, and school-related arrests. OPEN strongly supports this bill we need all the information about how schools are treating our children in order to hold them accountable. For more information, please contact the office of Rep. Joseph Bouie.
- HB 193 may increase or decrease equity, depending on how it’s used. This bill proposes that in the case of students being investigated for threats of terrorism or violence, school administrators will be able to allow students back to school and stop the investigation if they determine the threat not to be credible, but if law enforcement determines that the threat is credible and imminent, they can report it to the district attorney. Because this bill gives more power and discretion to law enforcement and school administrators, there may be more opportunity to unfairly criminalize children and act in a discriminatory way. For more information, please contact the office of Rep. Tony Bacala.
- HB 47 increases the penalty for the crime of improper supervision of a minor, which includes allowing children to be tardy or absent from school. OPEN is against this bill because it would lead to more criminalization of Black and low-income families, most of whom are tirelessly working to make sure their kids are in school but are facing other barriers outside of their control and should not be punished more severely because of that. For more information, please contact the office of Rep. Sam Jenkins.
- SB 137 is an enormous bill that includes almost all of the language, rules, and requirements for school discipline policies. This year, there are a few *minor* changes. There is a language change that gives schools more wiggle room in whether or not they choose to punish a child, which is positive because it’s being changed from a zero-tolerance type policy in which they were required to punish that child. Another major change is that charter schools would be required to comply to this discipline policy, which in the past they were not. OPEN is in support of these changes, but is not in support of the entire 70-page discipline code because it still has major issues that do not improve equity for our kids. This bill is necessary, but is only the beginning of what needs to be a comprehensive change in the way schools are allowed to discipline students. For more information, please contact the office of Sen. Wesley Bishop.
SB 120 is a proposal to revise rules around bullying in schools. OPEN is against this bill because it gives schools more power to report minor incidents to law enforcement, which would mean more kids coming into contact with the police and more unfair criminalization. We want to treat our children like students, not criminals. For more information, please contact the office of Sen. John Milkovich.